My ALLi author guest this week is Bjørn Larssen, who was born in Poland, lives in the Netherlands, but has his heart simultaneously in Iceland and with the ancient Norse Gods, which he writes about in his books. And, if that isn't enough, there is much more to Bjorn's story and his journey from communist-era Poland to his discovery of freedom as an indie author. Bjorn, himself, tells it best. Listen to the whole thing, since there will be surprises.
Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast: Bjørn Larssen Interview
For self-publishing advice and news, alongside indie author interviews, subscribe to the ALLi podcast:On Inspirational Indie Authors, @howard_lovy interviews @bjornlarssen: artist, blacksmith, #LGBTQ, on the #autism spectrum, and the Norse Gods' Biggest Fan. Click To Tweet
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Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast: About the Host Howard Lovy
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast: About the Author Bjørn Larssen
Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds. You can find him on his website and on Twitter @bjornlarssen
If you’re a published indie author who would like to be interviewed by Howard for the Inspirational Indie Authors podcast, you need to be a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Then contact Howard, including your membership number, explaining why you’re an inspirational indie author and what inspires you.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization.
Inspirational Indie Author Podcast: Interview Transcript: Bjørn Larssen
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.
My guest this week is Bjørn Larson, who was born in Poland, lives in the Netherlands, but has his heart simultaneously in Iceland and with the ancient Norse gods, which he writes about in his books.
And if that isn't enough, there's much more to Bjørn's story, and his journey from communist-era Poland, to his discovery of freedom as an indie author.
Bjørn himself tells it best. And listen to the whole thing since there will be surprises.
Bjørn Larssen: Hi, I'm Bjørn Larssen, I write historical fantasy and historical fiction.
I'm completely obsessed with Iceland. First time I went was just for a few days to do some research, and I came back, and I realized I left my heart there. So, I went again for a month and I haven't found it.
I was actually born in Warsaw, Poland. I never met my father. I grew up there, and when I was in my twenties, I started traveling abroad and I found out that I actually liked pretty much everything more than I did Poland, and that I'm moving to Amsterdam because most people here spoke English. The first place where I lived was the red-light district, and for someone who used to live in a very Catholic country, to move straight into the red-light district was interesting.
Howard Lovy: To begin with, one thing you should know about Bjorn is that he is on the autism spectrum.
Although he did not get a formal diagnosis until this year, he knew from an early age that he thought a little differently from everybody else.
Bjørn Larssen: I have a friend, and this kind of sounds offensive in a way, but he's really just correct. He works with gifted children, and he said that he can see in their eyes that they might be on the spectrum, and he tells the parents that they might want their kids tested. And he's got a success rate of 80%.
And he said he sees it in me, and I was completely confused. I was like, is he trying to offend me? Is this some sort of compliment, some sort of hint, I couldn't figure out what he meant. And then I started reading about the autism spectrum. I found out that it's much wider than I thought, because I had a super stereotypical picture of autism and, I started doing all those tests and there were many, many, many tests.
One of them was having to redraw a figure, first just looking at it and copying it, and then they took the drawing away and I had to draw it again, and I got it wrong and I was really upset. And then later I remembered, I did exactly the same test when I was a kid. I think I was maybe six or seven, and I also didn't do it correctly, and I was also upset. So, I wonder if they actually figured it out back in the early eighties and, you know, in communist Poland, there really wasn't much help you could get, it would be just another way in which I would be weird, I always stood out anyway. So, this year when I got diagnosed, I started reading a lot about what the autism spectrum is and isn't.
And it's very eye-opening.
Howard Lovy: The way Bjørn's autism manifested itself in early childhood was his obsession with reading.
Bjørn Larssen: I taught myself to read when I was four. I had a few books that I really liked, and I kept just pestering my mom to read me the same books over and over again. And finally, she said, I'm not reading this anymore, you know those books by heart, and she was right. So, I took those books and I taught myself to read, just because I knew them by heart and I kind of figured out which word looks like what, and then I started going through my parents' library. I had no concept of grownup books and children's books, so I just kind of grabbed whatever, I would read it through and put it back and grab the next book.
And it took a while until they figured out that I was actually reading them, and not just sitting there pretending to be very smart, because I think I actually asked about sex in a book, like, why would someone do this, it's disgusting? And then I started getting age-appropriate books.
And then when I was older, I realized I just didn't connect with the other kids. It was really like, now when I'm reading about it, it sounds so typical that back then I just didn't know. It was like, there's a book of rules, only I didn't get it. So, there are certain behaviors, and kids do certain things, but they didn't like me whether I tried to do those things or not, and it was really confusing.
So, I just ended up mostly spending time on my own, reading books and listening to music, and I was honestly very happy with that.
Howard Lovy: What Bjørn called his artistic focus, continued into adulthood, but this time it wasn't only about reading, but also writing.
Bjørn Larssen: And then I kept on wanting to write a book. I was 39 and I was still wanting to write a book.
I had this dream a few years earlier that later became Storytellers, and that's when I discovered, I didn't know it was that, but I discovered the autistic focus, because I would sit for 14 hours doing research or writing. I wrote the whole first draft in two weeks, I had no idea that was unusual.
I was just sitting there writing, writing, writing, being kind of irritated because I had to take a break for a meal. And then just writing, writing, writing, and just doing research. I hardly did anything else.
Howard Lovy: But before his obsession with writing took hold, he did a number of other things, including a graphic designer.
In fact, he was so good at it, that was Bjørn's ticket out of Poland. He was hired by a company in Amsterdam.
Bjørn Larssen: So, I worked as a graphic designer for 11 years, and then I had a burnout. And during the burnout I was working with this job psychologist, and she made me realize that I had never worked as anything else. So, I'm ignorant of all the topics. So, it really doesn't matter what I pick up, I'm exactly as ignorant in this as any other thing. So, I can just do whatever I want, and that's how I became a blacksmith.
Howard Lovy: Yes, you heard that correctly, Bjørn became a blacksmith and yes, they do still exist.
Bjørn Larssen: So, I started working, and at first, I made really small things, because I didn't really know what I was doing, I was just enjoying the practicing. And then I started making art, and it started actually selling, and I was really shocked because I just loved it so much. I also had this kind of medieval image of blacksmiths, it never occurred to me to dream about doing this job earlier on. So, then to find out that actually blacksmiths still exist, and they work, and you can make a living from that, it was more than a dream. I didn't dare to have dreams like this.
Howard Lovy: Aside from being a blacksmith, Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and worked as a programmer. With all this life experience behind him, Bjørn was ready at last to write. And for that, he turned to Norse mythology and a dream he had.
Bjørn Larssen: About five years before Storytellers came out, I would say about 2013, I had this dream about three brothers competing for one woman. One of the brothers was a priest and one was a fisherman. And I normally don't remember my dreams, but this one just stayed in my head for five years, and I wrote that first draft. And then I was thinking, okay, this should take place somewhere where you can have fishing, and I needed this, kind of, tight knit community that would also be deserted in a way, in a place which is far from everything. Suddenly, I had this thought, maybe Iceland, why not?
And I took out a book about the history of Iceland at the beginning of the 20th century, and I swear it sounded like Iceland was made especially for my needs. So, that's how Storytellers came to be.
Then I already knew, I would like to write something which is, I think it's kind of strange, because it's really fanfic on my own gods, and that's how the second book came to be, Children, which is a retelling of various Norse myths, but from the point of view of children of the gods, because I was reading the mythology and, for instance, Thor himself, it's like 20 minutes for himself, but his son is only mentioned once, when he saves his father's life, and then at the end, after Ragnarök, when he carries the hammer back to Asgard, and I thought, how would it feel if your father was the God that everybody knows, that everybody loves, that everybody talks about, and you know, you're the child of? And how do you build your own life when everybody sees you as a less interesting extension of your father, and your father is not a politician, not a pop star, but he's an actual god.
So, that's where it came from, and I'm going to take my knowledge of the myths and the faith, and just kind of expand it into stories and further books in the series.
Howard Lovy: To Bjørn, the stories of the Norse gods are more than just entertainment. So, don't mention the Marvel superheroes, or that other author who writes about the Norse gods.
Bjørn Larssen: I'm laughing because the Marvel versions of the gods are not extremely correct, and one of the reasons I started working on the topic of the Norse gods, as a writer, was actually Neil Gaiman, and I hope he's not listening, because he's done a really bad job with his book. I had huge expectations because he is the Neil Gaiman, and those are fantastic stories, and I thought, what can Neil Gaiman do with them? And he just pretty much wrote them down in a way that's not even particularly funny. And I thought, oh, come on Neil, you could have done a better job. So, since you didn't, I'll try my hand at it. And then it kind of escalated.
I think the Vikings TV series is one of the reasons why the Norse gods, kind of, enjoyed as a resurgence, because people watched Vikings and they were like, oh, this is really cool, and they get to like wave axes in the air and yell ‘Valhalla', and so on, and so on.
So, I think most of the interest is on this superficial level, but there are people who got more interested. In November, someone on Twitter came up with idea of Norsevember, and at the beginning I thought it would all be those books about waving axes and shouting Valhalla, but then it really started growing and becoming very interesting, and I contributed to Norsevember, and I found it really, really cool that this interest is actually going further. It's not just really about those t-shirts with skulls, but there are people who are actually interested enough to write about it, to read about it, even if it's, you know, not exactly academic level, it really is growing that interest, and it made me very, very happy.
Howard Lovy: And Bjørn's stories are making readers happy, selling well and winning awards. One other thing you should know about Bjorn is that he is an LGBTQ writer, themes that he incorporates into his work.
Bjørn Larssen: The Netherlands has this reputation of being a very, very open country, and parts of it are, but people tend to confuse Amsterdam with the whole country.
So, there is a Bible belt here, where I probably would not dare to just be open and talk about my husband as my husband. But where I live, near Amsterdam, I don't get any negative reactions ever. What I was more worried about were the readers. The first book doesn't really have any LGBTQ topics at all, but in the second book, the son of Thor is gay, and the daughter of Freya, the goddess of love, is aromantic and asexual. I did not know how the readers would react. It's been less than two months, and so far, the reactions have been great.
And when it comes to the gods themselves, there's a lot of queer content in the mythology. Loki is kind of gender fluid, I mean, Loki gave birth to a horse, that's even more than gender fluid. Thor, in the myth that my book, Children, opens with, he puts on a wedding dress, and it's quite an elaborate wedding gown, honestly, and a lot of jewelry. And I think in most religions, Gods don't do that.
As for the future, Bjørn found his niche in writing about Norse mythology. He's planning a sequel and a humorous kind of how to book on Norse gods in the style of Terry Pratchett. And that, he said, is the book that Neil Gaiman should have written. But that's okay, Bjørn said, he'll write it himself.
If you're a published indie author who would like to be interviewed by Howard for the Inspirational Indie Authors podcast, you need to be a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Then contact Howard, including your membership number, explaining why you're an inspirational indie author and what inspires you.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization.